Not-inspirational: more on the Downtown Community Plan

In my rant a few days ago I promised (threatened?) to come back with substantive analysis of the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), which the Planning Commission will review at its meeting Wednesday night. Which I’ll do, but give me a few more paragraphs about euphemisms.

The news on the euphemism front is not all bad. The DCP has eliminated a least one: “opportunity site.”

In the early days of researching for the downtown plan planners identified eight sites downtown that were big enough for large and/or complex developments, and called them “opportunity sites.” Thankfully, that’s gone, replaced by the honest descriptor, “large sites.”

Opportunity site is the kind of euphemism that inflames the suspicious natures of anti-development folks, while driving up the wall anyone who values straightforwardness. It’s a smiley face phrase that is more provocative of questions (“What opportunities?” or “Whose opportunities?”) than it is descriptive. So farewell, opportunity sites.

But the euphemism news is not all good. The DCP is not euphemism-free. My favorite is calling a seven-block area in the heart of downtown Santa Monica (DTSM) the “Neighborhood Village” district. (In earlier versions of the plan the area went by the plain and useful name “Wilshire Transition.”)

Village? Sure, there’s Greenwich Village. But otherwise, could we agree not to use the word “village” to describe any place that doesn’t have thatched roofs? There’s never going to be a village south of Wilshire Boulevard, between Fifth and Seventh Streets, and to imply that people living in apartment blocks, or working in offices, are living and working in a village is simultaneously a misuse of a good word and an insult to urban living.

Why am I going on about euphemisms? Because they are symptomatic of planning that won’t come to grips with the making of plans. Planning documents that from fear of reactions hedge every decision with layers of overly prescriptive details and, ultimately, further review. That are filled with desultory pages of community self-congratulation. Planning that lauds creativity (page after page extolling everything “creative” in DTSM from the banners on the Promenade to the “fresh local produce and seafood” in the farmers markets), but finds every way to shackle creativity when it comes to what the plan should be about, namely guiding positively the physical evolution of the city.

(By the way, is food that’s trucked in from, say, the hinterlands of San Diego or Kern County, local? Family-farm raised, seasonal, wholesome and delicious, yes, but local? This idea that Santa Monica has local farms is all apiece with denial that Santa Monica is in the middle of a metropolis. We’re on an ocean’s edge; so is Brooklyn.)

But enough about euphemisms. Let’s talk substance. Let’s talk building height.

I’m a big fan of, and I’ve written in favor of, the European, pre-elevator five-story city. As this picture of the Sixth Street block where my father lives shows, this kind of development can look and feel good in DTSM.

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Sixth Street north of Colorado Avenue

I opposed the towers Macerich originally wanted to build at Santa Monica Place, and I never supported the tall towers proposed at the Miramar. I also expressed skepticism about the other hotel towers proposed for downtown, without their ever getting to a point in the development process where I had to, or could, form a conclusive opinion.

So I’m not crazy for height for height’s sake.

But the limits on height in the DCP—for practical purposes 60 feet (five or six stories, depending on the height of the first floor)—go too far. (While in some places, in a “Tier 3” project, the DCP would permit heights as high as 84 feet (eight stories), and the plan is vague on what might happen on the four remaining “large sites,” realistically the default height limit is going to be 60 feet, because in most of downtown developers will rarely if ever attempt a Tier 3 project, which would require a development agreement.)

This 60-foot limit epitomizes nothing more than resignation, lack of imagination, and catering to irrational fears about losing downtown’s “charm and character,” as if DTSM’s character is based on the mostly nondescript buildings there rather than the people on the streets.

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Charm and character in DTSM

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with streets lined with five- and six-story buildings, and I certainly don’t like the modernist “tower in a park” alternative. But there is a middle range, territory in which creativity can mean a lot, and the DCP should allow or even encourage development in that range.

We’ve seen this recently with the development approved for 500 Broadway, which puts towers reaching 84 feet high on a low-rise pedestrian-oriented base. This project, designed by local architects Koning Eizenberg, shows that you can put the same amount of development in a somewhat taller building, and create better apartments, with more light and air for the tenants, at the same time that you bring more light and air to the streets below, and create excellent connections to the street.

KEARCH Brodway

A rendering of the 500 Broadway project.

There’s no reason not to have a base maximum height of 84 feet for all of downtown. (By the way, having a 84-foot limit doesn’t mean property owners and developers will take advantage of it. The Promenade has had an 84-foot limit for decades and nothing has been built to that height.)

And there’s also no reason not to allow even taller buildings, within reason, on appropriate sites. What’s “within reason?” It varies by site. A site like the Miramar, abutting a residential district, wouldn’t accommodate a building as tall as might be appropriate next to the freeway (such as the Wyndham Hotel site, or near the Expo terminus), but I don’t see any reason why the Miramar shouldn’t be able to replace its existing 12-story tower, and then build to 84 feet elsewhere (with the understanding that the floor-area-ratio isn’t going to be more than 3.0, so that any high-rise structures are going to be skinny, leaving more open space or more space for other buildings that are considerably shorter.

And who is really going to be bothered if the City allows a taller building at Fourth and Arizona? There are already tall buildings nearby. Or to replace the Wyndham Hotel hard by the freeway, or the parking lot at Second and Santa Monica?

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13-story building on Sixth, near Arizona Avenue

Planning should be inspirational. The DCP isn’t.

Thanks for reading.

Santa Monica’s long municipal nightmare

For a liberal like me, it’s hard not to be cranky after Donald Trump’s TKO (i.e., Electoral College) defeat of Hillary Clinton. True, my mood was elevated somewhat by the local KO of Measure LV, but it took another hit when I turned my attention to the political issue of the day in Santa Monica, namely the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) now under review by the Planning Commission.

The latest draft of the DCP, issued in February, is the product of what is looking to be a never-ending sequence of planning processes. These began a dozen years ago with the start of what was supposed to be a two-year process to revise the land use and circulation elements (LUCE) of the City’s general plan. The LUCE took six years of process before the City Council adopted it in 2010. Updating the Zoning Ordinance then took another five years (2010-15). During that time the City began the process to fill in a major gap left open in the LUCE, namely downtown Santa Monica (DTSM), and the draft DCP is what we now have for those efforts. After Planning Commission review, and further revision, the DCP is scheduled to come before City Council next spring.

Perhaps what’s most frightening about the DCP is that on its very first page of text, in an introductory section imagining a stroll in DTSM 20 years hence, the reverie ends with the statement that, “citizens in that far-off time [2036] are actively engaged in the fourth five year-revision of the original 2016 Downtown Community Plan.” (Note: the earliest the DCP will now be enacted is 2017.)

The fourth revision? As noted in the report on the DCP that planning staff prepared for the Planning Commission meeting Nov. 16 (after holding hearings that night, the Commission will again take up the DCP at its meeting next Wednesday, Dec. 7), the DCP has “been the subject of citywide discussion for the past five years.” And we’re supposed to update it every five years? Should we start the “citywide discussion” now for the 2022 update?

And note: it’s taken five years (and we’re not done yet) to plan for 20 years of development of only about 44 blocks, most of which already have buildings that are unlikely to be replaced for decades, or even this century.

Naturally, “citywide discussion,” what we’ve been having for five years, is a euphemism. For what (you ask)? Well, primarily for an out of control process that wastes everyone’s time. But that’s not the whole story. At the heart “citywide discussion” is a euphemism for elected officials not having the courage to let city staff plan, goddamn it, and then demand that staff give them something to vote on.

No, I don’t blame the hard-working and abused-by-the-public planners who drafted the DCP for the years-going-on-decades of “conversation.” I blame the electeds, and the succession of city managers since 2004, who themselves know plenty about planning, and could probably write the documents themselves, but who are afraid to make decisions without cover of meeting after meeting.

These meetings go nowhere, because they are designed to placate people who are opposed to change in any form, including the reasonable evolution of our downtown, people who will never be satisfied or persuaded by anything, let alone by more “conversation.” The City Council wants to placate the un-placatable, residents unhappy with change who don’t like downtowns and urban life in general, and don’t like our downtown in particular, what with its horrid tourists and young, happy, and “transient” apartment dwellers.

Further, the data and input that come from repeated meetings, including the eight months of outreach staff conducted since publishing the draft DCP in February, are by their nature going to be inconclusive. The more sequences of meetings there are, the more layers of iteration, the more inconclusive the data are going to be. People have different opinions. Planners must listen carefully to the public because the public has real world knowledge and ideas, but you can’t get plans from the public because, for one reason, members of the public don’t agree with each other. (And for now I’ll only mention the fact that staff didn’t bother talking to any of the workers at downtown hotels, people who, as opposed to many residents, are downtown everyday, who know the place and use the transit, and who might be able to use housing that could be built there.)

Memo to council members, to the Planning Commission, and to the City Manager: those residents you are trying to persuade to be happy with change have told you time and again that they won’t be persuaded. They will never be happy with any change that they imagine will add to traffic or that won’t restore the sunny days of their youth. Why don’t you cut the farce about pleasing them and get back to planning and deciding? At what point will you stop trying to make people love and respect you who at best look down their noses at you (Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City) or at worst despise you (Residocracy)?

Memo to council members: given (i) that anti-development targets Pam O’Connor and Terry O’Day both won reelection without SMRR endorsements, (ii) that when all the votes are counted no-growther Armen Melkonians will likely have received votes from fewer than 25% of the number of Santa Monicans who voted this year, (iii) that yet again no candidate running on an anti-development platform has won election without a SMRR endorsement, and (iv) that RIFT and LV both lost decisively, is it too much to ask you to stand up and end our long municipal nightmare of perpetual planning? I.e., make some decisions instead of calling for more process?

Memo to council members and planning commissioners: If you believe that the charm and character of downtown will be destroyed if you allow buildings taller than 60 feet, fine. Vote that way. But can you finally vote? I.e., make decisions? Without fearing that the people will withdraw their love for you?

Finally, delay has substantive impact. The circumstances, economic, political, and otherwise, in which the LUCE process began in 2004 were quite different in 2010 when the LUCE was adopted, so much so that the LUCE was an artifact the night the council passed it, largely doomed not to be implemented.

Did I say I’m cranky?

Next time I’ll do some substantive analysis of the DCP. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

The local vote: preliminary post-mortem

Shell-shocked after the presidential vote, I’ve been slow putting my thoughts together on the local election. In fact, when analyzing local elections it’s a good idea to wait a few weeks until the final results are certified. The results rarely change (except occasionally in a close City Council race, as Ted Winterer will ruefully acknowledge), but until all the absentee and provisional ballots are counted, one can’t speak about important matters like total turnout, or how different neighborhoods voted.

But in the meantime I can make a few points.

The defeat of Measure LV. Again, the final numbers aren’t in, but it looks like LV, the “Land Use Voter Empowerment Initiative,” performed the same as its predecessor anti-development initiative, the “Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT) did in 2008. RIFT got 44% of the votes cast on it, and right now LV is also at 44%. RIFT got about 36% of all votes cast—we won’t know that number for LV until we have the final returns.

While there are Santa Monicans who want no more development, and many residents who will vote yes on anything that promises to do something about traffic (and in a certain sense who can blame them?), there is a solid majority that does not want to plan by ballot box and/or will not arbitrarily restrict future development based on arguments about traffic or community character.

The vote was consistent not only with RIFT, but also with past votes to allow the development of affordable housing (in 1999) and to adopt the 1994 Civic Center plan. The last time a measure aimed against development passed in Santa Monica was the 1990 vote on Michael McCarty’s beach hotel. In the meantime, despite opposition from some elements of the anti-development side, Santa Monica voters have passed many bond issues and taxes, including this year’s Measures GS and V.

They want to manage change intelligently, but most Santa Monicans are not afraid of it.

The LV side has already blamed their loss on the big money spent against LV. But the 2014 vote on the competing airport measures showed that massive expenditures do not persuade Santa Monica voters. The aviation industry spent almost a million dollars, outspending the anti-airport, pro-park campaign by about six-to-one, but still lost overwhelmingly.

Santa Monica voters are sophisticated. Once they have enough information to make up their minds (which takes a campaign because most residents don’t pay attention to local politics), they make up those minds. The anti-development side can’t have it both ways – they can’t claim repeatedly and vehemently that only they represent the residents, and then consistently lose elections. Not, in any case, without implying that residents are ignorant dupes.

Perhaps Residocracy and the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City will take these results to heart and start describing themselves as speaking for “many” residents, which is powerful enough. I doubt it. Speaking for others is a hard habit to break. One might also hope that they would stop describing people who disagree with them as corrupt, but what was startling in this campaign was how viciously the LV’ers attacked opponents who had long been slow(er)-growth standard-bearers. All of a sudden stalwart controllers of growth like Kevin McKeown and Ted Winterer were the tools of developers, on the take. I tip my hat to them for taking the abuse; I hope that they are aware that they were only getting in the back what opponents of the no-change mindset get thrown in their faces everyday.

As for the City Council election, it was no surprise that the four incumbents won easily. The shocker was that Terry O’Day came in first. I assumed that since he was the only incumbent running without the endorsement of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), he would be the trailing winner. In my recollection, neither Bob Holbrook nor Herb Katz, the council’s longtime non-SMRR members, ever finished first. O’Day also voted for the Hines project. He came in first nonetheless.

This year SMRR didn’t endorse O’Day and two years ago SMRR didn’t endorse Pam O’Connor. Both were elected. But for elevating the development issue above all other issues affecting Santa Monica, SMRR would now be in a situation where all seven members of the council owed their election to SMRR, or believed they did. Instead, now SMRR is back to where it was when Holbrook and Katz were the two independents.

I’ll have more when all the votes are counted.

Thanks for reading.

 

LV: I take it personal

Over the weekend my son Henry wrote a note to his Facebook friends explaining why he felt so personally threatened by the candidacy of Donald Trump. Henry, who is getting a Ph.D. in Ancient History at an Ivy League university, has no personal reason to worry about Trump. He has a lot of “privilege,” which he’s well aware of, and he’s not going to need an abortion.

What he wrote was that he feels, however, that Trump is attacking him personally because Trump attacks the kind of place where he grew up, namely Santa Monica, part of greater Los Angeles, a dynamic, multi-ethnic metropolis. In his words, Henry “grew up in the America that Republicans fear, the America that Donald Trump attacks.”

Henry’s piece made me reflect on why I am viscerally opposed to Measure LV, here in Santa Monica. I’ve been writing about LV the past few weeks, focusing on the policy and political issues. Dry stuff. But as I thought about it, much of my reaction to LV comes not from my policy wonk side, but from my personal experience.

I consider LV an attack on two generations of Grubers: my father and my son.

Why? Well, as for my father, as my parents crossed into their eighties, they were living in Philadelphia, far from any of their three children. They were “getting up there,” but as always they were cleared-eyed about the future. They knew they would need help.

Based on new zoning Santa Monica had adopted for downtown in the ’90s, for the first time developers were building apartments downtown on land zoned commercial. I wrote a column about the new apartments after seeing a billboard advertising them. My folks read the column and asked me about moving here, into one of them. I encouraged them to do so, and in 2003 they became the first tenants in a new building on Sixth Street, a little north of Colorado.

The proponents of LV despise the apartments that have gone up in downtown Santa Monica over the past 20 years. They say they ruin the character of Santa Monica. But to my parents that apartment on Sixth Street has been a godsend. My mother died in 2007, but my father still lives there. At 95 he doesn’t get out much, and he has nearly 24-hour care, but the apartment has preserved his way of life.

The apartment has been a godsend for me, too. The apartment is three blocks from my office, and I have lunch with Dad three or four times a week, and brunch on Sunday. We go out to dinner often—one of our favorite places is a Japanese place, Ninjin, around the corner. I can’t imagine how things would have worked out if my parents couldn’t have moved here.

What about the other Gruber generation, i.e., Henry, that I say LV attacks? At some point in the hopefully not-to-distant future Henry is going to have his Ph.D. and, assuming universities are still teaching about the Romans, he’s going to be looking for a job. Little would make him happier than to get one in L.A.—because he loves L.A. and he’d love to raise his family in Santa Monica. Fortunately, there are many terrific colleges and universities here that might hire him.

But let’s face it—a generation ago, when many of the proponents of LV were buying their houses, a college professor could afford a house in Santa Monica, but today? Forget it: if you’re young and you’re not a tech millionaire, how are you going to buy a house here?

Okay, but Henry is “urban” enough that, like many in his generation, maybe he doesn’t need a single-family house. What about a condo, or a nice apartment? Under LV, those aren’t going to be built in Santa Monica. The City already, rightfully, does a lot to preserve our residential neighborhoods, and little will built in them. Our new zoning thoughtfully directs new housing to commercial zones, like along the boulevards and downtown, and on former industrial lands, where no residents are displaced and connections to transit are usually good.

LV, by design (its author, Armen Melkonians, told the City Council that Santa Monica doesn’t need more housing) will prevent that kind of housing from being built.

In the name of preserving the character of Santa Monica, a character that has been evolving for a century, and a character that for 60 years or so has seen most of the city’s population live in apartments, the proponents of LV wish my Dad’s apartment had never been built and wish that a future home for my son, a son of Santa Monica, will never be built.

Sorry if I take it personally, but LV is an abuse of the character of our city.

Please Vote No on LV.

Thanks for reading.

Truth and “The Truth We Know”

This week the Yes on LV campaign has distributed a flyer that itemizes the “lies” that the Yes campaign claims the No on LV campaigns have been saying about LV. The headline is “Don’t be Fooled by the Developers’ Lies!” The flyer has two columns, one listing the purported lies, and one listing the purported truths.

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The wording of the second heading, “The Truth We Know,” is interesting.

Why isn’t the heading simply “The Truth”? If something is true, does it have to be qualified with “We Know”? Is a truth more true depending on whether we (or anyone else) know it? The answer is . . . no. Truth doesn’t depend on who knows it.

The use of “The Truth We Know” says something about the entire campaign for LV. LV and the support for it is all based on what the drafters and proponents of LV know, regardless whether what they know conforms with reality. When confronted with data that shows, for instance, that Santa Monica has limited development for 25 years, or with plain evidence, for instance, that City Council members do not always give developers what they want, or with eleven years of community process developing planning documents that carefully channel and restrict development, the LV supporters shake their heads: they know that the City Council gives developers whatever they want.

“Forget the birth certificate, we know he was born in Kenya.”

As it happens, though, most of the back-and-forth over what’s true in the campaign has to do with issues that are peripheral to the mess that LV would create. Take the contentious issues whether LV would require public votes on rebuilds of taller than 32-foot buildings after an earthquake, or on construction of various public buildings. Clearly it was an oversight that LV does not include exemptions for post-disaster rebuilds, etc., but even if LV included them, LV would still be a terrible way to plan the future of Santa Monica. But the No on LV campaign has made a big deal about these oversights because, let’s face it, LV looks pretty dumb because it doesn’t have them.

(I know that the LV campaign has a letter from the lawyer who drafted LV saying that LV does not conflict with the City ordinance that allows for rebuilds after disasters, but I’ve read that letter and it’s a classic case of “oops, let me try to cover my ass.” The lawyer tries to use language referring to “new development” in the pre-existing zoning law to make the argument that LV doesn’t apply to reconstruction, but that language is obviously superseded by LV language that applies the requirement for a public vote to “any project that exceeds the Tier 1 maximum limits.”)

It all gets back to “The Truth We Know.” The lawyer who drafted LV and her clients at Residocracy presumably know that LV contains a clause that gives LV priority over any existing law, including the one that allows for post-disaster rebuilds. Was she lying in her opinion letter, and were they lying in their flyer, when they wrote that the existing law would prevail over LV? I don’t think so. “Lying” requires a positive belief that one is not telling the truth, and by now it’s fairly clear that the Residocracy folks know what the truth is without caring about it. They know that the existing rebuild law would not conflict with LV, and for them that’s the truth.

For the rest of us, at least for those of us who follow philosopher Harry Frankfurt, what they’re saying isn’t the truth or a lie, it’s bullshit, because they don’t care if it’s true or false.

But then, bullshit is not unexpected or even out of place in politics. I haven’t reviewed all of the No on LV arguments, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the No campaigns have pushed arguments that are just that, arguments. Politics is an art, not a science.

But the Residocracy camp, which is responsible for LV in the first place, can’t complain when their outrage provokes more outrage (and more than $1 million of spending). It was their idea. To bring this to the first-grader level where it belongs, “they started it.”

They also can’t complain because their campaign is entirely based—every signature they got is based—on a huge, steaming pile of bullshit, namely that LV is an answer to traffic congestion.

“Tired of Traffic,” their lawn signs say, and I can’t improve on what former Planning Commission Chair Hank Koning wrote in a Daily Press guest column yesterday in response to that slogan. As I’ve written before, LV won’t stop development, instead it will channel it into by-right, get-the-permit-at-the-planning-desk, office and retail projects that fit into the Tier 1 envelope. These projects will provide no community benefits and they will create more traffic than the larger residential projects that LV will prevent from being built.

Architects tell me that this is happening already, as their clients are tired of multi-year contentious permitting processes, and instead building two-story office and retail projects. For instance, here’s a photo of the retail and office building going up now at Fourth and Broadway; originally, a mixed-use residential project was planned for this site.

4th-broadway-nov-2016

As for how much more traffic commercial projects generate, when it comes to research, I’m lazy, but Koning isn’t, and here are the numbers from his column:

[T]he 2 story, all-commercial option generates more traffic than the 4 story, mixed-use housing over retail. How is that possible? Let’s look at the Santa Monica PM peak hour trip generation rates for different uses per 1,000 [square feet]: Multi-Family Housing, 0.33 trips; Retail, 3.01; Office, 1.08; Medical Office, 2.98 (Santa Monica Transportation Impact fee nexus study April 2012).

In terms of traffic generated, it takes 3.27 floors of housing to equal 1 floor of office, and a whopping 9.12 floors of housing to equal a second floor of retail.

And you know what? We all know that these data confirm our own experiences, as we know that that more people enter and leave commercial buildings everyday than enter and leave residences.

Koning goes on to point out that in jobs rich Santa Monica, many of the new residents will have jobs here, and having them living here will reduce commutes into Santa Monica. By definition, since they will be residents, even if they commute to jobs outside of Santa Monica they will not contribute to Santa Monica’s worst traffic—commuters coming into the city in the morning and leaving in the afternoon.

What people in the no-growth community don’t understand is that people in the pro-urban community hate traffic more than they do. We not only hate being caught in traffic, we believe it’s a crummy way to live to be encased in steel for so much of the day, isolated from the community. We’re trying to reduce traffic, not only traffic congestion. The old ways you cling to increase both.

Thanks for reading.

Capitalists to the barricades!

This is another in my series of posts about the rationalizations that otherwise liberal voters use for supporting Measure LV. Of all of them, the one that is probably the most effective with voters tuning-in late to the issue is that LV must be progressive because those arch-capitalists, developers, are against it and spending big money to defeat it.

The reason is that after a century of ballot box governance Californians evaluate ballot measures by looking at “who’s for an’ who’s again’ ’em.” We all know that if tobacco companies or oil companies are against a measure, that tells you a lot.

With a progressive electorate here in Santa Monica, it’s always a bad sign if someone is going to make money one way or another. Although it’s generally okay here to make money producing movies, nearly every other capitalistic enterprise is suspect. The supporters of LV have made a big deal about developer profits, as anti-development activists have done for years. They’re constantly invoking the “greed” of developers, and they loudly denounce anyone who supports the building of anything as being “in the pocket of” developers.

But there’s no secret why developers are spending money to defeat LV. It’s because LV would put them out of business in Santa Monica. None of them are going to spend three or four years developing a project, only to put it up against the crapshoot of an election.

Say you had a business; what would you spend against a ballot measure that would close you down? Take this example: one of the founders of Residocracy is local realtor Kate Bransfield. What if residents, upset with how much they have to pay realtors when they sell their now multi-million dollar homes, put a measure on the ballot that would cap commissions at one half of one percent of selling price?

After all, back when homes in Santa Monica were bungalows owned by Douglas workers, realtors didn’t make nearly so much money. Realtors must be greedy if they want full commissions on the inflated prices of houses now. That money would better go into the retirement fund of the seller.

If such a measure got on the ballot, how much money do you think Bransfield and her fellow realtors would spend to defeat it?

Or here’s another example. Phil Brock, now a write-in candidate for City Council, last week wrote a S.M.a.r.t. piece for the Mirror (tellingly titled, “The Alchemy of Greed”) all about how developer “robber barons” had taken over Santa Monica, how they were spending big to defeat LV, and how voters had to pass LV to stop them. Brock’s day-job is running a talent agency, and presumably he runs it to make a profit. What if there were a statewide measure that would reduce talent agency commissions from the current regulated level of 10% to 5%? How much do you think Brock and his fellow agents would spend to defeat that?

It’s the shortage of housing in California that makes real estate development so profitable today, and the regulatory environment, including measures like LV, that make it so risky. It’s a perfect example of the risk/reward ratio in action. In America we rely on the capital raised by capitalists to build most housing, so if you get rid of developers, you’d better come up with a completely different system to house a growing population.

What’s incongruous about all this “to-the-barricades” anti-capitalist rhetoric from the LV camp is that it’s coming from capitalists, or at least from many people who are making money from the current housing crisis, namely homeowners in Santa Monica (and their realtors). It’s not only Bransfield: City Council candidate and Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians describes himself on the ballot as a “civil/environmental engineer,” but at at least one point in his life he was a developer of mansions in Bel Air.

It’s hard to take seriously any arguments the Residocracy camp makes against making money from real estate.

Thanks for reading.

LV does not stop gentrification—it encourages it

Of all the strained rationales that otherwise progressive Santa Monicans resort to for supporting Measure LV the one most difficult to understand is that LV will stop gentrification.

Measure LV is designed to stop the development that would be allowed under the general plan land use and circulation updates (LUCE) adopted in 2010 and the zoning ordinance passed in 2015. The proponents of LV argue that this amount and kind of development would cause gentrification. This development would mostly be, as most development over the past 20 years in Santa Monica has been, multi-unit housing downtown and in other commercial zones.

Under LUCE and the new zoning, housing development is expected to continue to occur at the rate of about 250 units per year, annually about a one-half of one percent increase over Santa Monica’s approximately 50,000 existing housing units. Under 1990’s Measure R, at least 30% of these units must be deed-restricted affordable to low- and moderate-income tenants. Under LUCE and the new zoning, nearly all of these units will be built on land zoned for commercial development, i.e., not in neighborhoods.

According to LV’s proponents, development of these residences would cause gentrification. Could this be true?

How to define gentrification has been the subject of much academic discussion, and the word is used in various circumstances. What people who fear gentrification in Santa Monica mean, however, when they use the term, and what they fear, is that previously low rents and housing prices in neighborhoods (chiefly the Pico Neighborhood) are increasing so as to be out of the reach of historically low-income residents. They fear that new residents with higher incomes are moving in, increasing pressure on housing costs, and displacing long-time residents.

The causes of this influx are Santa Monica’s increased attractiveness, such as has resulted from the rebirth of downtown over the past 30 years, the city’s good schools and other services, and the higher-paying jobs that came to Santa Monica as offices and post-production studios replaced factories. Residents concerned about gentrification even fear the effect of the Expo light rail (even as they welcome it): a neighborhood, Pico, that was once “across the tracks” now is “along the tracks” and near Expo stations, adding to the value of real estate and making apartments there more desirable.

There’s no question that housing costs have increased in Santa Monica, including in former low-rent districts like Pico. Rents and housing prices have been increasing all over the L.A. area, including in low-income areas, as a result of a housing shortage that has been much discussed, but Santa Monica has housing costs that are among the highest in California and thus in the country. (Santa Monica also has a lot of upscale apartments, which raise the average rent.)

These high rents have attracted developers. Starting about 20 years ago the City began encouraging developers to build apartments in commercial zones, particularly downtown. The purpose was to take development pressure away from neighborhoods. In the late ’80s and early ’90s developers were using the Ellis Act to tear down rent-controlled apartments and replace them with condos. The City made it more difficult to do that, and compensated (because state law said the City couldn’t block the building of housing) by encouraging residential development in commercial zones. The LUCE and the zoning ordinance continue these policies.

Do these developments drive gentrification? Do they increase rents in low-income neighborhoods, driving residents out? The answer is no, for several reasons.

For one, adding to the housing supply does not increase rents on old housing stock, even if high rents in new buildings raise the average rent citywide. This doesn’t mean that increasing the housing supply will necessarily lower rents, since rents are determined by many factors, including regional supply-and-demand and the attractiveness of a particular location, but if high-income people moving to Santa Monica have more choices for apartments, particularly new apartments, it’s less likely that these potential “gentrifiers” will seek to rent old apartments in historically low-income neighborhoods.

Conversely, not building new apartments, the purpose of LV, would increase the pressure on historically low-rent neighborhoods. If our theoretical gentrifiers can’t find housing in high-end neighborhoods, or in a “happening” area like downtown, they are more likely to look for something in Pico.

This is what has happened in Sunset Park over the past 30 years with single-family homes. Bungalows that once housed Douglas factory workers were purchased and upgraded and now go for millions of dollars. I.e., the neighborhood gentrified (to the financial benefit of anyone who held onto the old bungalow).

While there isn’t room in Santa Monica’s R1 zones to build more single-family homes, there remains room in commercial zones to build apartments and condos to take pressure off neighborhoods like Pico. (With the added benefit that replacing potential commercial development with residential reduces the growth in traffic congestion.)

There’s also a danger with LV that as single-family home prices continue to increase in Santa Monica, reflecting demand for home-ownership, and without the building of condominiums to absorb the demand, owners of rent-controlled apartment buildings will use the Ellis Act to tear them down and replace them with large, single-family homes, which can be built “by right” with no planning review. This is already happening in a few instances.

So, no, LV will not stop gentrification. Just the opposite.

Thanks for reading.